Understanding Your FAFSA Student Aid Report and EFC

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FAFSA student aid report

You’re almost there. You’ve submitted college applications and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Now you’re waiting to hear from admissions committees, thinking about high school graduation and making plans for your last summer before college.

In the meantime, you’ll get your Student Aid Report, which lists your expected family contribution, or EFC. Here’s what you need to know about your results and how they’ll factor into your financial aid package.

What is the Student Aid Report?

The Student Aid Report gives you basic information about your financial aid eligibility. The report includes your EFC and your answers to questions on the FAFSA. It also includes your four-digit data release number, which you’ll need if you want to give a college the ability to add its school code to your application. If your FAFSA was incomplete, you’ll get instructions on how to resolve any remaining issues with it before you can receive your EFC.

Where can you find your report?

As long as you have a Federal Student Aid ID, you can view your Student Aid Report as soon as your FAFSA has been processed. Just log in to fafsa.ed.gov. It can take anywhere from three days to three weeks to get your report, depending on how you submitted your FAFSA and what information you included on it. If you gave a valid email address on your FAFSA, you’ll get an email with instructions for viewing your report online. Otherwise, you’ll get a Student Aid Report acknowledgement in the mail.

What should you do with your Student Aid Report?

Review the report carefully to make sure all the information you provided is correct. That information determines your EFC and your eligibility for federal and institutional aid, so it’s crucial that it’s accurate and up to date.

If you find a mistake, like an error in your address, you can log in to fafsa.ed.gov to update that information. If the Social Security number on your FAFSA is incorrect, though, you might have to submit a new application. In that case, contact your school’s financial aid office to find out what your next step should be.

If your current financial situation is different than what’s reported in your FAFSA — for example, if your parents’ income this year will be substantially less than the information on the tax returns you provided — talk with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.

What is your EFC?

Your EFC is the estimated amount that your family can contribute toward your education. It’s calculated using the information from your FAFSA, including your parents’ income, investments and other assets, as well as the number of people in your family and whether any of them are also attending college that year. You’ll see your EFC listed in the upper right corner of your Student Aid Report, as long as your FAFSA was completed in full.

Why does your EFC matter?

A college’s financial aid staff uses your EFC to determine your financial need. They take the school’s total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, and room and board, and subtract your EFC to calculate the maximum amount of need-based aid you’re eligible for. So if a school’s total cost of attendance is $20,000 and your EFC is $4,000, you qualify for up to $16,000 of need-based aid via programs like the federal Pell Grant, Perkins and direct subsidized loans and the work-study program.

The amount you receive depends on funding availability at your school. For example, the Pell Grant and work-study programs each have limited funds available each year, so you might not get the full amount you qualified for if you applied late in the FAFSA season. And colleges aren’t required to meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need (that’s the total cost minus your EFC). If they don’t, students are left with a gap that schools often suggest filling with aid that’s not based on financial need, such as direct unsubsidized loans and federal PLUS loans.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy. NerdWallet writer Devon Delfino contributed to this report.

Updated Oct. 4, 2016.

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